(Above: Eight framed journal entries with vintage photos and other ephemera. Click on image to enlarge.)
I've been writing and sharing images of work for my upcoming solo show, I Am Not Invisible, for some time. Yesterday it all came together. It is now finished. Good thing! Tomorrow I start transporting it all to the Tapps Art Center on Main Street here in Columbia. The show opens during the monthly "First Thursday" art crawl, November 7th from 5:30 - 8:30. I, however, will not be in attendance. I'll be on my way from the Washington Craft Show (Nov. 1 - 3) to the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show (Nov. 8 - 11). Not only will I not be at my own opening (though I will be at the second reception during December's "First Thursday") BUT I'M NOT EVEN HANGING IT! Yesterday was important. It gave me a chance to set up and photograph some of the work so that Brenda Schwarz Miller, the executive director at Tapps, can get it on the Tapps Art Center Walls.
She'll have plenty of creative license ... which excites me! Brenda is also an artist and a good friend. I'm so looking forward to how she places the individual pieces and how she decides what to do with these journal entries!
From the beginning, I hoped to make a body of work investigating HOW WE REMEMBER THINGS and HOW WE WANT TO BE REMEMBERED ... in the face of the fact that all these memories are constantly and inevitably slipping into a forgotten past. As an artist, I hope to create at least one thing that survives me for more than a few generations, but it will be hard to do and impossible to gauge whether I've succeeded or not.
For me, this is just the beginning. I'm not done with the work. I've already got seven or eight art quilts basted and waiting for stitch. They were originally suppose to hang with this show. Now, they'll hang "later" ... whenever that is. I am happy, however, that I did manage to accomplish one of the other goals I set for myself. I wanted to take a few snippets from my "Morning Pages", a devotion from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, that deal with my thoughts about this exhibit and its concepts. I did get this done! There are eight of them.
Below is an article I wrote for the upcoming issue of Carolina Arts. It is my statement for the show. Further below are the journal entries. (Okay, I admit it. I "cleaned" them up a bit ... you know the sort of editing that eliminates misspellings and inserts needed grammar, etc. Otherwise, these are my thoughts ... some from as early as last January when I first contacted Brenda with my idea for an exhibit!)
I Am Not Invisible is a defiant mantra and the exhibition title for new work by Susan Lenz. Opening at the Tapps Art Center, 1644 Main Street in Columbia during the monthly “First Thursday” art crawl on November 7th, the work investigates the nature of memory, the tendency to forget over time, and the artist’s fervent hope to create art with a lasting impression. “The last thing any of us will ever do is die”, says Lenz. “Like everyone, I have so many ideas, too many things to do and objects to make and not enough days in which to accomplish half of it. What really worries me is the possibility that none of it will matter in the years to come. I might not be remembered; my work might not be kept by future generations. With time, I might fade away, become invisible. I’m working to avoid this fate.”
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a stitched grid of anonymous vintage photographs. At fifteen feet in length and over five feet in height, it is easy for viewers to get sucked into the lives and times of the unknown families and the days they sought to remember through snapshots. Related work includes a collection of framed, antique portraits displayed as if a family’s wall of ancestors. Each image includes a collaged phrase, such as “I Was Someone’s Mother”, “Once a Pillar of the Community”, and “The Stories We Could Tell”. Other work repurposes scraps of crazy quilts, rusted nails, celluloid buttons, plastic greenery off discarded artificial cemetery flowers, and a plethora of vintage ephemera.
Susan put herself into her time-capsule concepts by posing nude atop sprays of funeral flowers and in barren landscapes. She also used her own life-sized silhouettes as a stitched outline on sheer chiffon and suspended this floating material in front of densely collaged canvases. The resulting images make obvious the shortness of life on earth and the inevitable blur of slipping into history.
While most of Susan’s extensive stash of materials is vintage and scavenged at estate auctions, she has also incorporated more modern items. Connected, Shared, Saved is a triptych of assorted cords, cables, Internet connectors and electrical devices. The individual words have dual meanings, half suggesting a network of human relationships and half suggesting similar computer functions. Gathering My Thoughts, a mass of unwound thread in suspended baskets, also draws on word associations. “Thread” is fundamental to fiber arts but is also a word used to describe conversations, common bonds, and Internet correspondence.
Collectively, the work uses every day, found materials and explores the way people try to remember and attempt to be remembered. The exhibit is the artist’s effort to do both while admitting the likelihood of failure. Journal entries are scattered through the exhibit and include: These truths are always with me: I am a female lacking an academic arts education in a male dominated world bent on high-brow approaches to art-making underscored with critical words written by trained professionals. I am a postmenopausal woman with years of experience and mountains of visual expressions waiting to take form. I work and will continue to work because I have something to say in spite of the many obstacles. I work with the faint hope that “something”, perhaps just one little work of art, might be kept through coming generations, cherished … admired … remembered … regarded for its quality… something to mark my existence on this planet. I work because I AM NOT INVISIBLE.
Journal entry # 1
I am old … middle aged … past the days of turning heads … past days of fertility … past the days when my art might raise eyebrows in the circles of those looking for tomorrow's new, great, up-and-coming artist, the one who might shake up the world with cutting-edge work. I just work.
I ply an age-old needle pulling timeworn thread through layers of vintage fabric. I work like so many women all over the world from every century since the dawn of time. There's nothing new about a straight stitch. Repetitive … pierce and pull … hour after hour … day after day … year after year. My sewing machine hums with near constant activity. My fingers are nimble and quick. Productivity is in my blood. Finished pieces stack up on out-of-the-way shelves, begging to be noticed, ready for the vague chance to hang on an exhibition wall. I don't hold my breath. I just work.
These truths are always with me: I am a female lacking an academic arts education in a male dominated world bent on high-brow approaches to art-making underscored with critical words written by trained professionals. I am a postmenopausal woman with years of experience and mountains of visual expressions. I work and will continue to work because I have something to say in spite of the many obstacles. I work with the faint hope that “something”, perhaps just one little work of art, might be kept through coming generations, cherished … admired … remembered … regarded as “quality” … something to mark my existence on this planet. I work because
Journal Entry # 2
I'm thinking about the art I want to make, the thoughts I want to share, the anonymous nature of every day invisibility … how our earthly lives are already quietly morphing into oblivion … how we are so quickly forgotten and our possession scattered to estate auctions and yard sales.
I've collected so many old photos of people I don't know … their birthday parties, christenings, weddings, and family vacations. One big box came from a gravestone carver's family. They lived less than two blocks from my house. A few scribbled notes on the backs of the images revealed a fact or two but left me with more questions than answers. Who were these people? Why didn't the scrapbooks stay in the family?
Just last night I bought a hand-tint of four … Mom and Dad … brother and sister. There's fresh green background and hand tinted sepia faces in an old burled frame with nice, wavy antique glass. The frame has never been opened. It holds captive an anonymous family that once could afford such a pretty picture. It represents the desire to capture a memory, create a keepsake, serve as an heirloom but it ended up on the auction block. Now, for just $7.50 plus a 10% buyers commission, it is mine.
Journal Entry #3
Ashes to ashes.
Dust to dust.
The notion of anonymously going back to the earth, an invisible soul winging its way to an unseeable sky where human memory doesn't exist. All that is left is a grave marker, a feeble attempt to record a name and dates as if a lasting impression. How do we make sense of the shortness of days? How do I make art to counterbalance nature? At what point does today become invisible?
Journal Entry # 4
There are times to embrace invisibility … to walk through a crowd unnoticed … to listen and see those passing by unaware of your watchful eyes … for it is during those moments that an artist finds the creative resolve to make work with a lasting impression. I might be invisible but my work will not be.
I don't want a moment in the limelight. I don't want a weekend of visibility. I'm not looking to compare my domestic stitching skills to the DIY world of making nostalgic, artsy fluff called “craft” despite how well it might express the virtues of femininity and family legacy.
I want more.
I want to shine with a unique light from within. I want my work to stretch beyond the drivel and the ordinary day-to-day life of being a middle-aged woman. Don't get me wrong! I want to keep the very human quality of a knitting circle, a quilting bee, the after church gossip hour. I like the hands-on approachability, the tender heart, and soft touch of fabric. After all, I am a middle-aged woman. My stitches literally are “women's work” but they are so much more. They are mine.
Journal Entry # 6
I overheard a conversation or two, drifting in space over my studio wall. A talented local artist expressed her frustrations. Galleries aren't returning her inquiries for representation. Sales are off despite the fact that she's more gifted than her friends who are selling well. She has talent, a strong work ethic, good looks, money, and is promoting her work. She uses top quality materials, excellent presentation, and is professional in all matters. She's got plenty of friends and everyone likes her. She's got everything I think should guarantee success … but it isn't happening. Generally, I'd be jealous but ease dropping has its advantages. Instead of thinking, “If I had what she has, I'd have MORE and BETTER and be VISIBLE in the art world,”
I feel for her. I understand on an innate level.
Journal Entry # 7
Bums are invisible to most of us. We try to ignore them on the streets. We walk a wide berth when we expect them to beg for money. We shake our heads at public meetings dealing with the problems of the derelict and homeless populations. Bums aren't real people. They are INVISIBLE.
Yesterday I passed the library on my way back from the studio. I saw another artist walking up Assembly Street. He wore a tan overcoat and a knit cap. I thought about how he looked as if he could have come from any walk of life … a banker, an electrician, or even someone serving flipping burgers at MacDonalds. Along the same street walked the homeless from the Oliver Gospel Mission. They all looked pretty much the same. I whispered to myself, Don't judge a book by its covers.
Journal Entry # 8
Visions lurk in the recesses of my mind … at my fingertips … on the edge of dreams … just beyond reach … blurred in semi-foggy mist. There's my nude corpse atop a funeral mound surrounded by cut and withered blossoms. Impending Death wafts in an eerie atmosphere of fading beauty, ready for a descent into oblivion. I am waiting. I am anxious. The vision simmers and I'm trying to grasp it from the clutches of invisibility.